English ads ke headlines Hindi mein kyon hai?

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The practice of creating print ads with a Hindi headline or baseline written in English script is now common in Indian advertising.

What gives? Aisa kyon hai? Here are a few conjectures and thoughts on this and related issues in advertising:

India: a market of many markets

Creating pan-India appeal in advertising is a daunting challenge for brands. There are several elements to a marketing mix (the product idea, brand name, advertising idea, creative execution) and very rarely do we find a campaign ticking all the boxes for all of India. It is also virtually impossible and expensive to create multiple versions of an ad. So advertisers and agencies opt for the most practical option – it could involve creating an ad film in Hindi and then dubbing it in many languages. The downside of poor lip syncing in many languages is just, well, tolerated or accommodated.

Regional brands also face such problems: an ad meant for South India could originally be made in say, Tamil and then dubbed in other languages like Kannada or Telugu. Even in such, the lip syncing would be ‘off’. Poor lip syncing is just one of the issues in creating pan-India appeal. Crafting the key message in an idea or context which has a wide appeal is a challenge in itself. For example, playing cards as part of Diwali celebrations is common in the North but alien to the South. Dress codes, celebrities and other settings could also set up some sort of distance among geographies: a ‘rural’ setting would be very different across markets. So a ‘least common denominator’ approach sets in, where the basic parameters are ticked.

In the case of the MagicBricks, the choice of celebrities in itself tells something. Do Ayushman Khurana and Kirti Sanon have the same appeal in Delhi and Coimbatore? Unlikely. But the brand owners could have wagered that for a majority of the audience they are targeting, these celebrities have some value. They chose to live with the chance that in some markets the celebrities may be unknown or don’t evoke any ‘connect’. But since it is impossible to please everybody they simply decide and move on.

The travails of made-in-Mumbai translation & dubbing in India

Several consumer goods brands are popular in many states across India. A few large brands typically dub ads in 8 major languages: Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali. Most of the ads are created in Mumbai or Delhi. Even if a Delhi or Bangalore-based agency creates the ad, the translators and dubbing artistes are likely to be in Mumbai. The language writers would have typically spent their growing up years in their respective states and then moved to Mumbai for their careers. Their connect back to the home state is in a way a proxy one – through popular culture and literature and not necessarily reflecting current trends and tastes. Moreover, they hardly interact with the original creator of the ad to understand the objectives, approach and nuances of an ad. In any case, the original creator of the ad cannot be expected to be familiar with cultural contexts of so many markets. So the LCD factor comes into play again.

Such a situation also leads to stereotyping – a Mumbai based creative person assuming this is how things or people would be like in the ‘South’ viz. Tamil Nadu in their minds. In terms of execution too, especially dubbing, very often you’d notice that the voice over is not that of a native speaker of that language. Voice artists unfamiliar with a regional language are often made to dub in it – and the effort shows, setting up alienation…or at least a lack of apna pan (wonder what a non-Hindi speaker would make of that). Lost in translation is a reality in Indian advertising.

Who has time to craft ads anyway?

Over the past few years, it is rare to see any sort of ‘crafting‘ or effort put in English print ads. Very often the headline is just a mention of the launch and the body copy, a PowerPoint slide like bullet points. The effort to find a creative idea and craft an interesting or intriguing headline, indulge in relevant word play etc., is a thing of the past. There is hardly any effort to charm the reader. All the effort seems to go behind crafting the television commercials – which anyway has a crew of stylists and other talent like musicians to ‘package’ the ad. So print ads are virtually a lazy output. In that context, a colloquial Hindi headline written in English and a listing of product features is a ‘good enough’ effort – adequate to do the job of visibility, especially if it is in two full pages of Times of India.

Apna time ayega factor

Influence of movies and popular culture in advertising is natural. TV shows and movie titles have been written in English script for ages – be it ‘Dulhan wohi jo piya man bhaaye‘ or ‘Nach baliye‘ (which by the way, was auto corrected as Baileys by my MacBook). So it is not so jarring to see ads headlines written in such a style – it is now normal. Also many who are part of the entertainment industry – especially the city slickers from upper classes of society with a big fan following may act in Hindi films but may not be comfortable with Devanagari script. In fact, they think and speak in English most of the time. That’s why Karan Johar’s talk shows are popular. Which movie was it where a Hindi film actor cries out in anguish, ‘but this is in Hindi!’ when asked to read out a dialogue?

Risk of alienating a section of audience lower than potential gain?

Undoubtedly, ads with Hindi headlines or base lines, won’t find a connect with a section of the audience in the South. Even if the baseline is translated in local languages it may not have the same effect or ‘punch’ as clients are prone to say. In Bangalore it is common to hear radio ads for real estate brands in Hindi. Maybe they figured that the market lies with the famous ‘IT crowd’ who are likely to be from other states and hence Hindi is just fine. The city’s cosmopolitan nature may also play a role. In markets like Chennai, I think the resistance to Hindi is not as high as it was a few decades ago. MagicBricks may still find an audience who ‘gets’ the message with a Hindi headline in such markets.

In sum, I feel it is a combination of factors at play – the LCD phenomenon and minimal effort for optimal reach being the key drivers.

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1 Comment

  1. HUL has started created communication relevant for many indias as part of its WiMi strategy (win in many India). I do agree print is an outcome of lazy output and more often than not the brief is to be blamed for it. it never pushed the agency to deliver beyond the obvious ‘announcement’ kind of headlines.

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